There has been lots of discussion on the social web today about Stephen Baker's BusinessWeek article about social media snake-oil salesmen.
Articles like this are common in the tech world: take an overhyped subject, point out some wretched excesses, and warn the audience that bubbles have burst before.
But Baker is on to something when he calls upon practitioners to "shift the focus from promises to results," and he's done his readers a service if he causes them to ask two important questions:
* Do I have a well-defined reason for undertaking a social media initiative; and * Does whoever I'm dealing with have a track record in helping organizations who had similar reasons.
As anyone who reads Lithosphere knows, there are lots of enterprises working on successful social media initiatives, and there are a number of proven ways to measure success. In fact, I would venture to say that Social CRM as we define it is one of the more quantitatively rigorous new disciplines to emerge in a while.
So does that mean it's not social media? One wonders.
An interesting observation from that article, made by Saatchi's digital creative director James Cooper, is that people embarking upon social media projects take a "VC" approach: one bet out of 10 is going to pay off. This is a really unfortunate way of thinking about social media projects.
If your goal is only to generate momentary buzz -- 20 million hits on YouTube -- then that's a high-risk endeavor (with questionable rewards, as Cooper notes). But if your goal is to create lasting relationships with your customers and create value in partnership with them, then this stuff is practically blue chip at this point. We see it every day among our customers, and we see the results every day in their deployments.
The real tragedy will be if the industry defines "social media" in such a way as that only risky or silly projects qualify. You can almost hear the snake oil salesman's response, "Oh, customer communities -- that's not social media. People have been doing that forever." Or, perhaps more honestly, "Oh, customer communities -- that's not social media. They actually work."
Well, yes. Customer communities have a track record. We can measure whether they are healthy. We can define whether they are succeeding or failing. They generate ROI.
And, by the way, they're a great way to improve your probability of success in other social media projects -- that's why we're so excited about Social CRM. It's social media that works.